How to Plan a Private Funeral and Proper Etiquette

Published September 21, 2020
friends hugging at private funeral

A private funeral is a small, invitation-only service that is not open to the public. In general, only close loved ones, which may include friends and family members, are invited to attend a private funeral. Whether you are attending or planning a private funeral, there are several tips to keep in mind.

Private Funeral

Holding a private funeral for a deceased loved one is an intimate way to honor their life, while spending time with those most important to them.

Pros and Cons of a Private Funeral Service

A private funeral service:

  • May feel much easier to plan and put together compared to a larger gathering
  • May be less expensive overall
  • Will typically have fewer people in attendance (this may be a pro or con depending on each individual's opinion)
  • Has less opportunity for community support and outreach
  • May value privacy, especially when it comes to grieving a loss
  • May be a family custom to hold a private funeral after the loss of a loved one

How Do You Plan a Private Funeral?

To plan a funeral, you'll need to:

men taking food from buffet

Private Funeral Service Announcement

In addition to writing a death announcement or obituary that mentions the private funeral, you may want to send out formal or informal invitations to those who are invited to the service. Wording for a private funeral service:

  • It is with love that the (insert family's surname) family asks you to join us in a private celebration of the life of (insert name of deceased individual). The service will be held graveside at (insert location) at (insert time). Small reception will follow at our residence (insert address).
  • Please join the (insert family's surname name) family in honoring the life of our beloved (insert deceased individual's name). Private service and reception will be held at our residence (insert address) at (insert time). Please let us know if you are unable to make it.

Private Funeral Ideas

Private funerals offer a lot of flexibility in terms of location. You can consider:

  • Having the private service at your home. You can order in your favorite meals, have a potluck event, or serve some small bites. With this option, you have the potential to save a lot and avoid paying for a venue.
  • Having the service graveside. With this option, you can forgo a post-funeral service reception if you'd like, or you can head to someone's home, or out to a restaurant to spend more time together.
  • Have the service in a public space like a park, by a lake, or at the beach. These can be especially meaningful options for those who lost a loved one who spent a lot of their time outdoors.
  • Have the service at a restaurant or event space. Opting to have the service at an event space or restaurant completely eliminates having to clean up post service, which can be helpful during this time. Depending on how many people will be attending, it's best to reach out to the restaurant beforehand to make a reservation or reserve a room for your private events so you aren't left waiting around. Event spaces will have to be booked ahead of time as well.

Private Funeral Service

Tips for planning a private funeral:

  • Announce the private funeral service via a death announcement, obituary, or by any other means you feel is appropriate.
  • Keep the guest list short, and if in doubt, invite family only.
  • Reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed.
  • Know that a private funeral can look however you'd like, and there is not right or wrong way to plan.
  • The funeral can be as simple as you'd like- there are no "have tos" when it comes to planning a private funeral.

Private Funeral Etiquette

If you've never attended a private funeral before, it can be helpful to know what to expect.

Who Attends a Private Funeral?

You may read about a private funeral in an obituary or death announcement. Private funerals are invite-only and may only include close family members. In other cases, close friends may also be invited to attend.

How to Respond if You Aren't Invited to a Private Funeral Service

If you weren't invited to a family funeral service, you may feel hurt, confused, and upset. Know that there are many reasons why a family would choose to hold a private ceremony. Even without attending a funeral, there are still ways you can honor the life of your deceased loved one and process your emotions in healthy ways. You may also consider reaching out to the immediate family of the deceased individual and passing along your condolences.

What to Expect if You Attend a Private Funeral

If you attend a private funeral:

  • Expect that the service and/or post-funeral gathering may be a bit briefer compared to larger funeral services.
  • Expect to see family only or family, along with a few close friends.
  • Know that the service may be held outdoors, at someone's home, or at an event venue.
  • Keep in mind that the immediate family of the deceased may ask if you'd like to share any special memories.
  • Dress may be more casual, but it's best to ask someone in the immediate family how formal the service will be if not specified on the invitation.
  • Don't bring up or ask why the family opted to do a smaller, more intimate funeral service.

What Does It Mean to Have a Private Funeral?

A private funeral is an intimate way to honor the life of a deceased loved one. Deciding if a private funeral works best for you and your family's needs is a completely personal choice.

How to Plan a Private Funeral and Proper Etiquette